Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Hello, 2015! It's so exciting to ring in this new year. And always so surprising to look back on the previous year - how does SO MUCH happen in 12 months?? I hope all of you had good 2014s, and that 2015 is even better! One thing I highly encourage you to keep an eye on is Noah Strycker's Big Year. Noah normally holds the position of Associate Editor at Birding magazine, but as I'm sure you can imagine, his plan to travel the globe gets in the way of commodities like reliable internet connection. He's starting his year in Antarctica. You can keep up with his incredible journey at - I know I will be!

My year may not begin in Antarctica, but it's still off to a great start. And last year ended wonderfully, too. I've had some great bird experiences since my fall semester came to a close.

The day after Christmas, I sure found a lot to be thankful for. My dad and I tried to go birding at our normal haunts, but they were both closed for certain reasons. We resorted to Lake Solano Park, which is about a 40 minute drive away. This ended up being such a great choice.

I usually love watching the ducks & other waterfowl at Lake Solano, and there certainly were a lot to watch. There were a large number of Bufflehead and Goldeneyes on the water.

Those Goldeneyes gave me a pretty fun identification challenge. I already see waterfowl so rarely, and it had been an achingly long time since I had gone birding at all. I was flipping through my field guide to refresh myself on what female Bufflehead looked like when these female Goldeneyes showed up. I'm not complaining at all - it was a great chance to try out a new toy! My dad gave me a Phone Skope  for Christmas. It's a cover that slides onto your phone, tablet, iPod, or GoPro and allows you to easily line up your camera with the lens of your optics to take a picture. I got the picture below through this cute gadget:

Armed only with this picture, I pounced on two people who showed up with scopes. We hummed and hawed over the bird's beak and forehead for a while, and ended up settling on Barrow's Goldeneye mostly due to the largely yellow beak. This was a great refresher in bird identification, and an opportunity to try out a new gizmo.

I was planning on focusing on the waterfowl all morning. That plan abruptly changed when a dark shape flew overhead. It was the right size and shape for a woodpecker, but the dark coloring on the bird's underside was new to me. Most of the woodpeckers I see have white and black patterns on their bellies and underwings. I tried not to get my hopes up, but the moment I got a closer look, I couldn't deny it - this was a Lewis's Woodpecker.

I've wanted to see a Lewis's Woodpecker ever since I found out they existed. I had no idea they were right here, 40 minutes away from my house! Within moments, more came into view. There were at least 4 of these beautiful birds flying from tree to tree and pestering each other. They actually pestered each other the entire time I watched. I never expected such gorgeously colorful birds to be such jerks. (This is said out of love and adoration.)

I sent pictures of these lovely birds to probably 5 people. Everyone needs to know the gospel of the Lewis's Woodpecker.

There were plenty of other great birds in this park, too! I got to watch a Hermit Thrush scuttle along a building, a White-breasted Nuthatch creep along the bark of a few trees, and my actual target bird - a male Phainopepla that lives in this park - flutter from tree to tree.

A few days later, I got another Christmas gift. A month ago, a friend sent me a link to West Coast Falconry, a falconry center outside Yuba City. West Coast Falconry is one of only 12 places in the country with the proper permits to allow untrained civilians to hold falconry birds. They're currently offering sales on tickets to experience the birds, and I can't recommend it enough. I got a ticket to the Falconry Experience at 11:30am, where I and a number of other raptor-lovers learned about the sport, got to call a trained Harris's Hawk to our gloves, and watched her go through a number of exercises with her trainer. It was soooooo cool. When else are you going to get the chance to see a Harris's Hawk up close? Much less watch her eat, see her mantle over her prey, and watch the amazing interactions between raptor and trainer.

The second event was an Owl Encounter at 1:30pm, which both my dad and I had tickets to. This was a more sedentary experience. We sat with the other people in two rows, and the trainers carried the owls out to us. The trainers were so incredibly knowledgeable. That was already clear from the Falconry Experience, but this is where they really pulled out all the stops. They taught us about owl anatomy, evolution, and the difference between all of the species. It was SO COOL!

Barn Owl

Eurasian Eagle Owl

6 month old Spectacled Owl!

I would absolutely love to go again. This isn't the kind of experience you have every day - unless you're a falconer yourself. ;) I highly encourage you to get a ticket while the sale is still on!! It's completely worth it. But if you go in the winter.... Dress warm. It got quite chilly.

This morning, my dad and I took a good friend of mine out birding. The goal? To see Sandhill Cranes. There's a reserve in the Central Valley called the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve which is a marvelous place to see cranes. I don't think I saw any at all last year! I really missed hearing the swans and cranes flying in at the beginning of the winter.

Anyways, we headed out, and we started passing cranes along the highway more than 15 minutes away from the reserve. When we made it to the actual reserve, it turned out that there weren't a huge number of cranes there, but there were a smattering in a few fields here and there. The largest group of cranes was in a growing orchard. There were probably 30 scattered amongst the posts. I didn't get any good pictures, but you can use your imagination. It was super fun showing these gorgeous cranes to my friend. She asked the best questions about their mating habits, what they ate, where they breed - all kinds of stuff that I absolutely did not know. It was a learning experience for both of us!

It was a gorgeous, crisp day. There were plenty of other birds out, as well. We found a surprisingly accommodating Northern Shrike by the wetlands.

Further down the road, we came across a field of at least 400 Greater White-Fronted Geese, across from a huge flooded pond full of Tundra Swans. That was a great place to turn off the car's engine and sit with the windows open. I love the nasal honks of the geese, and the coos of the swans. Those calls, along with the throaty purring of the cranes, are among my favorite waterfowl sounds.

My favorite part was that I got to spend the first beautiful morning of 2015 with a great friend and my dad. This winter has been good to me so far.

I hope that your winter is also going wonderfully! Best of luck in 2015. And happy birding!

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